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Ask the Experts

How Can I Stop My Child From Exaggerating?

By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist

Question:

My 7-year-old is exaggerating, and I am at my wits' end trying to figure out a way to stop this behavior. I want to get a handle on this so that he doesn't become a manipulator.

He has had problems with some boys at school. I think in his effort to fit in he has discovered that some of the other students who tell tall tales are not held accountable, so he feels compelled to add his own exaggerated tales to fit in. For example, he has told the kids at school his dad drives a hot rod, which isn't true. He has also told teachers he has 13 cats. How can I stop this behavior?

Answer:

Before you can stop your son's behavior, you have to understand it. Exaggerating is a form of lying, and there are three types of lying we see in children. I'll discuss each below.

Tall tales

Most second-graders know what a lie is, but sometimes they tell tall tales anyway. These exaggerated stories tend to be somewhat believable and are fascinating to other kids. Your son telling peers that his dad drives a sports car is a perfect example of this. These types of stories usually garner a lot of interest from other kids and may even increase the storyteller's social status.

Habitual lying

Another type of lying involves children who have developed a pattern of lying over and over. These are not problem children, but they start lying to avoid consequences, deal with teachers and keep from hurting their friends' feelings. The old joke where the kid tells his teacher "Tthe dog ate my homework" is an example of this type of lie. Children who fall into this category have simply lied so much that it has become an automatic reaction.

Serious lies

Lies of this type might be told by youths who are trying to hide a serious problem (such as drug or alcohol use). For instance, when confronted with a pack of cigarettes found in his room, a child might say he was holding them for a friend. There are also some kids who lie even when it hurts others.

In your son's case, the first category seems the most likely. Sit down with him and have a serious conversation about honesty and dishonesty. Be sure to talk about exaggerating and lying and the importance of truthfulness at home and at school. If you think the problems with the boys at school are ongoing, make an appointment with your son's teacher or the school counselor to explore the situation further.

If your son's exaggerating becomes a repetitive pattern of serious lying, then you should consider evaluation by a licensed psychologist, social worker or counselor in order to better understand his behavior. Your pediatrician or the school counselor would be able to assist with this process.


Dr. Stacie Bunning is a licensed clinical psychologist in the St. Louis area. She has worked with children, adolescents, and their families in a variety of clinical settings for 20 years. Bunning also teaches courses in child psychology, adolescent psychology, and human development at Maryville University in St. Louis.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

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